Most of my elopement couples can get away with doing their entire ceremony and post-ceremony celebration – with fewer than 15 participants – in public spaces like Shenandoah National Park. However, if you are hosting an intimate wedding for 15-50 guests, a public spot in a park won’t cut it – you’re going to need some kind of venue.
Spaces like Shenandoah National Park or a state park are public recreation zones and have specific rules about what kind of events can be held with how many people. (Elopements with up to 15 participants and no set up, for instance, can happen just about anywhere.) Check out this comprehensive guide about how to get married in Shenandoah. State parks have their own rules and regulations that may differ from park to park.
If you are eloping, choosing Shenandoah or a state park is an amazing option. For a wedding, though, I wouldn’t necessarily book a park lodge, given the wide array of highly appealing choices out there.
A quick note — throughout this article I’m using the terms “small,” “intimate” and “micro” wedding interchangeably. I define that kind of celebration as anything with 15-50 participants but venues are going to have their own definitions.
Is the venue all-inclusive or will we be largely putting everything together on our own (setting up tables and chairs, decorations, etc.)
What is the rainy day plan in the event of inclement weather (will we have to rent a tent)?
Is food available on site or will we have to bring in catering? (If it is available on site, do we have to use their offerings?)
Are there any restrictions about what kind of event can happen there? (A home in a residential area may be fine for a dinner party, but will not work for a small dance floor due to local noise ordinances.)
Will we have to rent tables and chairs, or are those included at the venue?
There aren’t right or wrong answers to these questions, but do keep them in mind. While it may be cheaper to rent a VRBO than an inclusive venue initially, those costs might become a wash if you add in a tent, tables, chairs, linens, silverware…you get the point…to the VRBO rental price.
Currently, VRBO is way easier to search than Airbnb for a place to host an intimate wedding. That’s because in August 2020, Airbnb removed the filter function “suitable for events.” So while you can still search Airbnb for properties that will accept up to 16 guests (the Airbnb filter max), you then have to scroll down and look through house rules and message hosts individually to find out if they’re able to do events.
At VRBO you can simply filter for “events allowed” and, as far as I can tell, as many guests as you want can stay on site (although fair warning — most houses will only be able to accommodate 20 or so overnight guests.)
If you aren’t finding much, remove the “events allowed” feature and just start clicking on properties you like and reading the “policies” tab — many places do allow small events but require prior approval.
Finally, you’ll find some of the places have names like this one in Charlottesville (The Inn at Blue Mountain.) These are properties associated with existing venues, breweries or vineyards that are simply marketing themselves through Airbnb or VRBO. In those cases, I recommend booking directly through the main website instead of accessing it through VRBO or Airbnb. That’s because VRBO and Airbnb take a cut of the profits and some rentals will raise their rates when listing on those sites.
As you’re looking through properties, here are the parameters I would recommend keeping in mind:
Is there a beautiful space outside suitable for your ceremony?
Is there space to set up a tent if needed on the grounds or an indoor space that could be used for the reception in the event of rain?
What does the space look like inside?Walls painted in solid, muted colors make a better photographic backdrop than, for example, wood paneling. (Wood paneling kind of makes everything look orange so I usually recommend people try and stay away from the “rustic cabin” vibe for their venue.)
What do the reviews say? If there is a criticism, how does the owner or manager respond?
What are the house rules? Read them carefully to make sure you aren’t surprised by anything.
If you are having guests come on site who will not be overnight guests is this allowed by the owner or host?
Will there be enough bathrooms for all your guests?
Here are some lovely properties on VRBO or Airbnb that would make great intimate wedding venues.
A cute bed-and-breakfast or inn is my favorite kind of venue for an intimate or micro wedding. They are already equipped with tables and chairs, the food is often exceptional (when there is an onsite restaurant), and you (and your closest friends and family) can stay at the property!
Luckily in Virginia there are MANY bed and breakfasts or inns that are amazing choices for your celebration.
Here are a half-dozen:
The Joshua Wilton House (Harrisonburg)
The Blue Door Kitchen and Inn (Flint Hill)
The Oakhurst Inn (Charlottesville)
The Clifton Inn (Charlottesville)
The Farmhouse at Veritas (Charlottesville)
The Ashby Inn (Paris)
This is quite literally your own backyard or the backyard of a friend or family member. Backyard weddings can be SO much fun because they’re comfortable, casual and incredibly intimate.
The considerations for having a backyard wedding are similar to those you have to make when renting an Airbnb or VRBO though.
In the event of rain or inclement weather is there space for a tent or for everything to be moved indoors?
If it is moved indoors will it harm the space? (If grandma has wall-to-wall beige carpeting, it may not survive 15 pairs of feet tramping inside from the pouring rain.)
Are there enough bathrooms?
Will the celebration disturb neighbors? My brother’s wedding reception featured a square dance and live bluegrass band at his in-laws’ property…but they live way out in the country buffered by more than 20 acres. If your chosen backyard is in a city center, a dinner may be more appropriate.
Virginia is a mecca for breweries and vineyards. Many double as big wedding venues, but others are small and offer the perfect backdrop for a micro wedding.
This is not an exhaustive list, by any means… And, to be honest, just about any brewery or vineyard in the area has the capacity for hosting a wedding. These are just a few of the more intimate ones that would work well for a smaller group.
Stonetower Winery (Leesburg)
Wildman Dan (Afton)
Glass House Winery (Charlottesville)
Catoctin Creek Distillery (Purcellville)
For those of you who want the beautifully curated or high-end wedding experience done on a smaller scale, a venue that specializes in such events might be the best way to go.
All of the venues listed here either only accommodate smaller celebrations (fewer than 80 or so guests) or have specific micro-wedding packages.
The Blue Ridge Farm (Afton)
The Space Downtown (Charlottesville)
The Commonhouse (Charlottesville)
Red Pump Kitchen (Charlottesville)
Lewis Ginter Botanical Garden (Richmond)
Historic Polegreen Church (Richmond)
Amanda and Devin had been together 10 years when she contacted me in September of 2020, but never felt the need to get married. Then Coronavirus hit and suddenly, it seemed important.
They planned a microwedding for fewer than 20 people in almost exactly a month at the Marriott Ranch Bed & Breakfast in Hume Virginia. The Ranch is used as a getaway for the Marriott family and, when not being used, is a beautiful venue featuring the rolling Virginia hills and Blue Ridge Mountains.
Amanda is both a medical doctor and current PhD student and they have high risk family members so they took COVID very seriously. Their wedding was socially distanced, entirely outside and very low key. Most of the shots you’ll see here were taken with a long telephoto lens so they could comfortably take off their masks for their couples portraits =).
Here is a sampling of their gallery.
The Ultimate Small Wedding Planning Guide and Checklist